Sunday, March 7, 2010
The Washington Post reports on South Korean women's choice to put off marriage and family in order to work, and the corresponding birth rate decline.
In a full-page newspaper advertisement headlined "I Am a Bad Woman," Hwang Myoung-eun explained the trauma of being a working mom in South Korea.
"I may be a good employee, but to my family I am a failure," wrote Hwang, a marketing executive and mother of a 6-year-old son. "In their eyes, I am a bad daughter-in-law, bad wife and bad mother."
The highly unusual ad gave voice to the resentment and repressed anger that are common to working women across South Korea.
In a country where people work more and sleep less than anywhere else in the developed world, women are often elbowed away from rewards in their professional lives. If they have a job, they make 38 percent less money than men, the largest gender gap in the developed world. If they become pregnant, they are pressured at work not to take legally guaranteed maternity leave.
Most South Korean corporations do little to accommodate working mothers -- or working fathers, experts say. South Korean law allows a full year of subsidized parental leave, but intense peer pressure at work means that working mothers usually take little time off, according to government surveys. Only about 35,000 parents in this country of 49 million people took advantage of child-care leave subsidies last year.
"The longer leave they take, the less the likelihood of getting their old job back, even though that is illegal," said Yoo Gye-sook, an associate professor of family studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. "Flextime is frowned on by human-resources managers. They feel that company discipline might erode."
To lower stress as they climb corporate ladders, women in South Korea are postponing marriage and motherhood. The number of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s is surging. For three years running, South Korea has had the world's lowest birthrate, according to the U.N. World Health Organization.
The no-husband, no-baby trend has become a demographic epidemic in East Asia. Among the 10 countries or territories with the world's lowest fertility rates, six are in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a 2008 CIA ranking. From Japan to Singapore, the percentage of women who remain single into their mid-30s is rising at historically unprecedented rates. In South Korea, the percentage of unmarried women ages 30 to 34 nearly doubled in the past five years, rising to 19 percent from 10.5 percent.
Read the full story here.